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Michael James McCormack:
Macbeth, William, Malcolm


From grand national narratives, to obscured queer histories and local folklore, artist Michael James McCormack researches a diverse range of historical sources to catalyse his playful and inquisitive approach to painting.

For three years, the North East based artist has developed a series of artworks exploring local history, with a focus on Gateshead's long and illustrious past. His paintings move from abstracted depictions of Roman deities, to the violence the Middle Ages, and into the entrepreneurial Victorian age. This lightbox site is based on McCormack’s large scale tryptic titled Macbeth, William, Malcolm (2021).

Macbeth, William, Malcolm blends scenes from literature, myth, and history. The central panel shows a medieval battle between William the Conqueror and Malcolm III of Scotland on Gateshead Fell, an event described by Victorian antiquarians which is now doubted by modern scholarship. The panel on the right continues the central battle alongside a hazy vision of the burial of Malcolm III at Tynemouth Priory, a factual event that took place in 1093. In the panel on the left, three witches huddle around a fire, prophesying battle and bloodshed in an allusion to Shakespeare's Macbeth; a dramatisation of Malcolm III's removal of the historical King Macbeth from his throne.

McCormack is conceptually drawn to local history as a shared public record with the potential to connect us. He blurs reality and fantasy in the triptych, through both his choice of subject matter and application of paint. The work invites us to think about how history is written, and the place of fact and fiction in how it is shaped.

Visit this lightbox work in the foyer, opposite BALTIC Shop.